Timbuktu (2014): Abderrahmane Sissako, from Cannes to New York Film Fest

timbuktu_2World-premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest, where several of his films have been shown, “Timbuktu” represents Mauritanian-born director Sissako’s first film In Competition.

The film will be shown in October at the New York Film Fest.

On one level, “Timbuktu” can be perceived as a political message feature about an issue few Western viewers know about (and if they do, it’s from the biased media coverage). On another, equally significant level, “Timbuktu” is an arthouse work, sharply told and expertly directed with imagery that’s both breathtaking and heartrending.

After a jihadist takeover of northern Mali, a proud cattle herder comes into fateful conflict with the fundamentalist rulers of the provincial capital, in this lyrical drama from the African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako.

timbuktu_1Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shea man called pherd.
In town, the powerless people suffer from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned.  The women have become shadows but resist with dignity.
Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu.  But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants.
“Timbuktu” is a remarkably authentic witness to incredibly atrocious acts and the existence of people living an inevitably risky life in the extreme.

A shrewd filmmaker, Sissako knows that lending the film a more straightforward documentary-realist style would limit its accessibility as well as its status as an art work. As a result, he imbues his dark and grim tale with some absurdist and surreal touches.

It’s to Sissako’s credit that “Timbuktu” is effective in both visceral and cerebral ways, due to the humanist perspective that infuses the tale and its characters